D.B. Cooper gets some 'Leverage'

TV show based, filmed in Portland devotes episode to case

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

Published:

 

ON TV

• “Leverage,” “The D.B. Cooper Job,” an episode of the Portland-based show focused on the local legend of 1970s hijacker Dan Cooper.

9 p.m. Sunday, TNT.

photoTimothy Hutton, who plays Nathan Ford, and Gina Bellman, who plays Sophie Devereaux, get their 1970s on in the "Leverage" episode "The D.B. Cooper Job," which airs Sunday.

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Keep an eye on those grifters if you're a fan of the TNT show "Leverage" -- they've just stolen a local legend.

D.B. Cooper, the notorious airplane hijacker who parachuted over Southwest Washington with a $200,000 ransom in 1971, will be the focus of Sunday's episode, "The D.B. Cooper Job."

The show follows a team of thieves, led by former insurance investigator Nathan Ford (played by Timothy Hutton), who use their skills to help people who are ripped off by wealthy companies or criminals.

Chris Downey, the writer and executive producer, said he wanted to focus an episode on the Cooper legend after producers this season decided to move the show's fictitious setting from Boston to Portland, where the series has always filmed.

"Last season we did a flashback episode called 'The van Gogh Job' that took place in the 1940s, and I wanted to do another one like that for the 1970s," Downey said. "I started to do research about things that happened in Portland in the 1970s, and there really wasn't anything bigger than the night before Thanksgiving when D.B. Cooper hijacked a plane."

The hijacker, who called himself Dan Cooper, escaped by parachute that night. He has never been found.

During the initial investigation the authorities questioned a Portland man named Daniel B. Cooper, who went by his initials, but he was cleared. Because of the publicity and headlines, though, the name D.B. Cooper ended up being associated with the Dan Cooper legend.

The case went cold until 1980, when a Vancouver boy discovered a stack of the ransom money in the sand at Tena Bar on the Columbia River, but that only led to more speculation about Cooper's survival.

"There's just a lot of different stories from people who think they know what happened," said Donna Elliot, owner of the Ariel Store in Cowlitz County, which hosts a D.B. Cooper party every fall. "Me, I think he made it."

Downey, who said he's become quite a fan of the Cooper case since he first learned of the legend, doesn't agree with Elliot -- although he does like the notion.

"I'd love to believe that he survived, but surely we would know by now," Downey said.

"Leverage" has filmed a handful of scenes in Vancouver since it premiered in 2008, including one last May.

"We've had a great time filming over there," Downey said.

One of the challenges of filming the 1970s look for "The D.B. Cooper Job" was trying to make the props, the haircuts and the outfits seem authentic to the time, he said.

"It was a challenge for every department on the show, wardrobe especially," Downey said.

Costume designer Nadine Haders had to get creative when tracking down outfits for the re-creation of the Northwest Orient Airlines flight.

"She really dug in on the authenticity of the wardrobe -- to the point where she found one of the flight attendants on the D.B. Cooper flight and re-created the outfit to be historically accurate," Downey said.

As a writer, Downey had to make sure the lingo he used matched that of the time. Since he grew up watching '70s cop shows such as "Mannix," "The Rockford Files" and "The Streets of San Francisco," he also wanted to pay homage to them.

"It was a lot of fun," Downey said. "When we did the sound mix, I said I want to hear typewriters, I want to hear phones ringing. … There's a gunshot in the episode, and I said I wanted it to sound like the gunshots in those old '70s shows."

Composer Joe LoDuca, who did the score for the episode, ended up writing a brand new D.B. Cooper song, which "Leverage" spokeswoman Cassie Bryan said will eventually be available from online music providers.

While he did spend many hours researching the D.B. Cooper story, Downey was also quick to add that the TV show isn't meant to be a documentary.

"I took some liberties with the story," Downey said. "I hope people that are fans of the Cooper case enjoy the episode. It was great fun to play with such an iconic figure from the Pacific Northwest."

Ariel's Elliot said she's looking forward to watching it. She hopes to show the episode at her store's next D.B. Cooper party, which is always held the Saturday after Thanksgiving at 288 Merwin Village Road in Ariel.

"Sure, we'd like to show that episode," Elliot said. "Why not? I bet that'd give people even more (conspiracy theories) to talk about."